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Black Friday sales up, growth slowing

Consumers shelled out for electronics, especially TVs, but growth over the previous year slowed.

Low prices on Black Friday enticed shoppers to spend more money on consumer electronics, but sales grew at a slower rate than last year.

Retailers rang up $2.09 billion in technology sales during the week ending November 25, according to data released Monday by The NPD Group. Though it's an 11.8 percent increase in spending from the same week last year, growth is slowing. In 2005, sales of $1.87 billion represented a 15.4 percent increase over the previous year.

As expected, based on heavy promotions and aggressive pricing, sales of LCD (liquid-crystal display) and plasma televisions experienced impressive growth. Revenue from LCDs of sizes 30 inches and larger jumped by more than 200 percent, and unit sales grew by almost 300 percent. Smaller LCDs didn't fare as well, with sales 26 percent better than last year, indicating consumers are convinced bigger is better, particularly when bigger comes with a nice discount.

For the first time, during the week leading up to Black Friday, flat-panel TVs outsold CRT (cathode ray tube) sets. Almost half of the TVs sold during that week were LCDs, while 21 percent were tubes, and 10 percent plasma. The picture in 2005 was almost completely reversed, with tubes representing just under half of all sets sold, and LCDs 26.3 percent.

For all the fanfare surrounding MP3 players this year, sales were not nearly as remarkable as TVs, as unit sales grew by 26 percent this year. Though it was expected to be the most-requested technology gift among adults and teens for this holiday season, sales of audio players couldn't keep up with the astronomical growth from the last few years. The category "grew by a couple hundred percent last year, and it's hard to replicate that," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group. "The category is a lot more mature this year."

SanDisk tied Apple Computer, with 39 percent of all MP3 players sold for the week, but the similarities end there. iPods led all manufacturers with 66 percent of dollars spent in the category, while SanDisk had 18 percent. The difference is explained by pricing--the average price of SanDisk players sold during the Black Friday week was $51, versus Apple's $187, due to heavy promotional discounts offered by SanDisk.

Apple "actually had a pretty good week," said Baker. "Considering SanDisk is out there giving stuff away, selling stuff for $29 or $39 that would normally be $89 or $100." Those figures do not include iPods sold directly from Apple, which does not release sales figures from or Apple stores.

Microsoft's much-ballyhooed MP3 player, the Zune, captured 2.1 percent of units sold, tying with Disney and coming in behind Apple, SanDisk, Creative and Memorex.

Portable PCs are still one of the most popular holiday shopping items, growing even faster than last year in retail stores, according to NPD's data. Unit sales of notebooks were up 64 percent compared with sales during the week of Thanksgiving last year. The average price of a notebook was down significantly as well, from $852 last year to $701 during this year's Thanksgiving week.

Those out shopping during the Thanksgiving week were not worried about the impending debut of Microsoft's Windows Vista, Baker said. When Vista was delayed earlier this year, some feared the PC market might suffer as a result during the holiday season, but good deals, it seems, are impossible to pass up. "(Black Friday shoppers) don't care about Vista coming out in eight weeks. They want a product now, and they are getting a great deal, and they are going to buy it," he said.

A similar survey of Thanksgiving week PC sales, conducted by Current Analysis, crowned Hewlett-Packard and Sony the big movers during the week, thanks to heavy promotion and discounting.

Storage was another hot seller during the week, as more and more people realize they need a safe place to store their digital music, pictures and video, Baker said. "Having an easy way to back up my stuff in a way that doesn't turn me into a network administrator is a very powerful message," he said. External hard drives in 120GB and 240GB capacities were especially big sellers during the week.

Predicted to be one of the fastest-growing consumer electronics items this season, consumers found their way to attractively priced GPS devices. Revenue grew by 262 percent, despite the average cost decreasing from $684 last year to $322 in 2006. It seemed to convince buyers: total units sold during the week skyrocketed 670 percent over 2005, according to NPD.

Digital cameras brought in $182 million worth of revenue during the week; only LCD TVs and notebook PCs brought in more. Retailers enjoyed a 13 percent increase in revenue compared with the same week last year, even though the average price dropped from $182 to $163 this year.

Overall, the sales figures for Black Friday 2006 mirrored the trend of the largest and fastest-growing categories. LCD TVs, notebook PCs, digital cameras, plasma TVs and MP3 players as a group accounted for 45 percent of the week's consumer electronics sales and experienced a 46 percent growth over last year. As it turns out, they were retailers' saving grace, according to Baker. "Without these categories, 2006 Black Friday revenue would be down by 6 percent."